Despite the rain, NASCAR successfully ran practice, qualifying, and all three races in its inaugural race weekend at Circuit of the Americas.
The Camping World Truck Series race was won by Todd Gilliland, the Xfinity Series race was won by Kyle Busch and the Cup Series race was won by Chase Elliott. Yet the weekend featured its share of controversy. The Cup Series race was filled with wrecks and red flags due to the rain, and NASCAR called it 14 laps before the scheduled finish due to worsening conditions.
After just one race weekend at the road course in the history books, our columnists Mark Kristl and Joy Tomlinson debate whether NASCAR should return to COTA next year.
Go Elsewhere, NASCAR
I eagerly anticipated NASCAR racing at Circuit of the Americas for the first time. After watching the three races, I was left disappointed at the product provided by the latest road course addition in Austin, Texas. NASCAR should not return to COTA next year.
First, the Cup Series race left multiple drivers furious, with champions Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Busch all displeased with the on-track product in the rain. The second stage was marred with wrecks, and seven drivers failed to finish the race. While the rain can be blamed, many drivers and fans are not going to have fond memories of this race. Would you want to return to a track after you were involved in a multi-car wreck at that course for the first time, or were treated to a blinding fog of water?
NASCAR can look elsewhere for new venues to replace this track on the schedule.
COTA is also a large road course at 3.41 miles, complete with 20 turns. The pole-winning time was more than a minute and a half. At Bristol Motor Speedway, a minute and a half would constitute six laps! The incredible length of COTA spread the field out, so lapped traffic was not a factor. Although the leaders likely enjoyed not battling lapped drivers, racing in traffic adds another variable to the race. Throw in standing water that had to be blown off the track, and it just made for downright dangerous conditions that resulted in a pair of lurid accidents that had the drivers visibly rattled. NASCAR should therefore look elsewhere.
Despite all the hype surrounding the inaugural COTA race, arguably overshadowing the previous race weekend at Dover International Speedway, fans did not tune in as expected.
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) May 26, 2021
If all that hype did not produce high ratings, especially compared to 1-mile Dover, is it worth returning? New tracks should result in high ratings, with fans clamoring to watch the race. NASCAR should seek higher ratings by adding other new courses to the schedule instead of a return to COTA.
NASCAR shook up the schedules for this year, adding the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track, COTA, etc. There are other viable options for NASCAR.
A Frontstretch 5 column featured five other road courses where NASCAR could go.
Chicagoland Speedway, Iowa Speedway and Kentucky Speedway were removed from the NASCAR schedule. Although Chicagoland and Kentucky are both 1.5-mile tracks, Chicagoland has been the site of some memorable races. Kentucky has not been a fan-favorite, but it is a newer track. Would a 200-lap, 300-mile Cup Series race on a Saturday night reinvigorate some excitement into those races there? It might be something worth exploring.
Iowa, a 0.875-mile short track, has hosted a combined 33 Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races. Clayton Caldwell argued NASCAR has ignored short track racing. NASCAR changed the first Bristol race from asphalt to dirt – should it add Iowa to replace a short track race? Keeping with the Midwest theme, World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway has been the site for 20 Truck races. Additionally, after Michigan International Speedway lost one race weekend, Chicagoland, Iowa, and Kentucky were removed, Gateway would give the Midwest another race date.
In case NASCAR opts not to travel to those circuits, there are other possibilities for that COTA race date.
NASCAR’s returns to Nashville Superspeedway this season. Meanwhile, nearby Fairgrounds Speedway is still a popular choice for a NASCAR revival as well. If Dale Earnhardt Jr., a 15-time Cup Series Most Popular Driver, is backing the return to the Fairgrounds Speedway, NASCAR fans will follow suit.
Lastly, the Cup Series race took three hours to complete, despite ending 14 laps early. When a flagman signals 10 laps to go, the excitement of the race conclusion amps up. Instead, the lengthy course, the bad memories for many drivers, and better alternatives mean NASCAR should consider its trip to Circuit of the Americas to be a one-and-done. – Mark Kristl
Let’s try racing at Circuit of the Americas again
NASCAR should absolutely return to COTA next season. Just because heavy rains dampened the fun at the Austin, Texas course, doesn’t mean NASCAR shouldn’t try again. The Cup Series race ended under a red flag due to the rain and visibility; seems like such a strange way to end the lone date.
If it rained at Daytona International Speedway, would we be demanding a removal from the schedule?
I’d like to see things play out in sunny weather, like what happened in the Xfinity Series race. Yes, I know it was the Kyle Busch show for much of the event and there were only five green-flag passes for the lead, but I’m sure there were still some battles throughout the field that Fox didn’t air. If we used this as a measuring stick, we wouldn’t have had an Xfinity schedule at any track after 2010.
Look at the Camping World Truck Series race; it was entertaining and had some good fights for the lead and other positions. It was also really wet, though not as bad as the Cup race. There was no clear winner until the end of the contest, as multiple drivers led several laps that day.
Of course, the rooster tails weren’t quite as bad in that event either. It seems the main issue with COTA was the poor visibility from the mist sprayed out the back of the cars; it was so thick it almost looked like fog. No one could see anything when they were behind other racecars going at a high rate of speed. This part was dangerous, yes; NASCAR did admit its fault for not stopping the race after the first set of crashes involving Kevin Harvick and Bubba Wallace.
NASCAR is looking into that issue and started on Monday (May 24) at Richmond Raceway by adding mud flaps to cars during the wet weather tire test. Joey Logano offered some insight and shared his thoughts about the mud flaps and tires, saying that the tread pattern may play a factor in the amount of water sprayed. But ultimately I feel that if it’s raining too hard for them to run at COTA, then they should wait it out or postpone.
It still shouldn’t be the sole reason for not trying again, though. NASCAR fans wanted a variety of tracks this year and got it. If the Cup Series didn’t return to Circuit of the Americas, where would it go? Probably back to Texas Motor Speedway- another 1.5-mile cookie-cutter track. I’m sure you remember the last time Cup drivers took on that course in misty conditions; it ended up being postponed until Wednesday that week.
Also, there were quite a few fans in attendance that stuck through the downpour, adding to the excitement in the atmosphere at the 3.41-mile circuit. Let them have another race date in hopefully better weather so they can fully enjoy the festivities. Keep in mind, the Next Gen car is coming out next year – a car that has some obvious Australian Touring Car influences in its design – and we don’t know how exactly it will react in the rain. Let’s wait and see how the race goes in calmer conditions before we completely cross COTA off as a dud. – Joy Tomlinson